Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for Pope John Paul II in Fairbanks, Alaska

May 02, 1984

The President. Well, now, I want to welcome Your Holiness to the United States and, on behalf of the American people, say how pleased and privileged we are to have you among us. We're just returning from a mission of peace, and I can think of no more fitting close to this journey than to be here in the presence of Your Holiness, who has worked so diligently for recognition of the rights and dignity of the individual and for peace among nations.

I can assure you, Your Holiness, the American people seek to act as a force for peace in the world and to further the cause of human freedom and dignity. Indeed, an appreciation for the unalienable rights of every human being is the very concept that gave birth to this nation. Few have understood better than our nation's Founding Fathers that claims of human dignity transcend the claims of any government, and that this transcendent right itself has a transcendent source. Our Declaration of Independence four times acknowledges our country's dependence on a Supreme Being, and its principal author and one of our greatest Presidents, Thomas Jefferson, put it simply: "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time."

But no one knows better than Your Holiness that the quest for human rights and world peace is a difficult, often disheartening task. In the face of turmoil and tragedy in our world we must always remember the central message of your own ministry—that the quest for peace begins with each of us. When I began this journey on Easter Sunday, I asked the American people to join me in a prayer for peace, a prayer that the nations of the world would renounce the agony and heartbreak of war and learn to live in love with each other. We must never underestimate such efforts. Far more can be accomplished by the simple prayers of good people than by all the statesmen and armies of the world. Only when the fellowship of all men under the Fatherhood of God is recognized and acknowledged, only then will the world finally know true peace and understanding.

To us, Your Holiness, the Holy See and your pastorate represent one of humanity's greatest moral and spiritual forces. And your visit is particularly significant, coming as it does soon after the reestablishment of relations between the Holy See and the United States. For over a century we maintained warm and fruitful, but informal relations. Now we have exchanged Ambassadors, and we hope to build on this new relationship to our mutual benefit and to the benefit of peace-loving people everywhere.

In a violent world, Your Holiness, you have been a minister of peace and love. Your words, your prayers, your example have made you—for those who suffer oppression or the violence of war—a source of solace, inspiration, and hope. For this historic ministry the American people are grateful to you, and we wish you every encouragement in your journeys for peace and understanding in the world. I also want to say how grateful I am for this opportunity to meet personally with you to discuss matters of vital concern to the Holy See and to the United States. We deeply value your counsel and support and express our solidarity with you. On behalf of the American people, I welcome you, and I extend to you our warmest greetings.

The Pope. Praised be Jesus Christ.

Mr. President, dear people of Alaska, esteemed citizens of America, it gives me great pleasure to visit Alaska once again and from this northern State to send a greeting of special warmth and affection to all the citizens of ..the United States of America. As you know, today I have begun a pastoral journey that will take me to Korea, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Thailand. And I am delighted that this pilgrimage enables me to stop here in Fairbanks and to be among you.

I am deeply honored by the presence of President Reagan who, himself, is just returning from an important trip to China. Mr. President, I thank you for your kind welcome on my arrival, and I wish to reaffirm, through you, my friendship and esteem for all the citizens of your great nation.

My thanks go as well to Bishop Whelan for his much appreciated invitation to the Diocese of Fairbanks. I also extend my good wishes to Bishop Kaniecki, and I pray that the Lord will grant him many joyful years of service to the Church.

I would also offer a word of greeting to the cardinals and bishops of the United States Episcopal Conference who have shown their fraternal union with me by coming here on this happy occasion.

When I arrived on my first visit to your beautiful State, dear people of Alaska—and it is beautiful, your State—I remember being welcomed by a lovely little child, Mary, who reached out and handed me a bouquet of forget-me-nots, your State flower. Shortly afterwards that little girl was called home to her heavenly Father, but her loving gesture is not forgotten, and her memory is held in blessing.

I found in what she did at that time a living truth about the people of the vast Alaskan territory—that in your thoughts and in your prayers, you remember the Pope. Today I'm here in person to give you the assurance that I have not forgotten you. Even when I am miles away, I hold the people of Alaska and those of the whole of the United States close to me in my heart. I do not forget you, for we are linked together by bonds of friendship, of faith, and of love.

In some ways, Alaska can be considered today as a crossroads of the world. President Reagan is returning from visiting the beloved people of China, even as I am making my way to a neighboring area in the Far East.

The city of Fairbanks reminds us also of another direction, for it is called "the heart of the golden north." Here in this vast State, 65 languages are spoken, and peoples of many diverse backgrounds find a common home with the Aleuts, Eskimos, and Indians. This wonderful diversity provides the context in which each person, each family, each ethnic group is challenged to live in harmony and concord, one with the other.

To achieve this aim requires a constant openness to each other on the part of each individual and group—an openness of heart, a readiness to accept differences, and an ability to listen to each other's viewpoint without prejudice. Openness to others, by its very nature, excludes selfishness in any form. It is expressed in a dialog that is honest and frank, one that is based on mutual respect.

Openness to others begins in the heart. As I stated at the beginning of this year in my message for the World Day of Peace, if men and women hope to transform society, they must begin by changing their own hearts first. Only with a new heart can one rediscover clear sightedness and impartiality with freedom of spirit, the sense of justice with respect to the rights of man, the sense of equity with global solidarity between the rich and the poor, mutual trust and fraternal love.

Here in Fairbanks, you have the opportunity to rediscover such values and express them in your harmonious relationship with your neighbor, which reflects the stupendous harmony of nature which pervades this region. May God grant you the strength to express this harmony in your own lives, in your relationships with others. May He give you the courage to share generously and selflessly the blessings that you yourselves have received in abundance.

God bless America.

Note: The President spoke at 10:09 a.m. at the Fairbanks International Airport.

Following the ceremony, the President and the Pope met, together with U.S.. and Vatican officials, in the airport terminal. The President and Mrs. Reagan then boarded Air Force One for the return to Washington, DC.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for Pope John Paul II in Fairbanks, Alaska Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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